Doctorate Housewife

What my degree in IPE didn't teach me about baking, DIY, fitness, and life…

Asbestos – Is the deadly fiber hiding in your home?

I have a story to tell you. Every renovation project has a surprise. This is the surprise that came with insulating the roof…

Well, when we did we found these in the bit near the ceiling…

We worried that it might be asbestos and called an expert. He took samples of the fibers. He also mentioned that a lot of houses had asbestos lagging around the pipes in their basements. We have a basement and it has pipes… eek. We had him test those too.

and the results…

No asbestos in the ceiling fibers – yay! Asbestos in the pipe lagging, 2 separate kinds – boo!

We started doing more research on asbestos and read that at one time it was in over 3000 different household products, including floor tiles and faux marble window ledges. The picture of the tile that came with the article was the exact same one we have in our house. So we decided to do more testing. This time I sent away for a kit from our local consumer organisation.

The end result? Our original worry = not asbestos, the pipes in the basement and practically every bit of flooring in the house + the glue that holds them down = asbestos…

So what does that mean? Well we’ve spent a lot of the last month figuring that out. Asbestos is a great substance. It’s heat resistant, fire resistant, a great insulator, makes tiles stronger, and glue more resistant. Just one problem – it’s deadly. There are a couple of different forms, some more friable than others. The more friable, the more problematic. The thing is asbestos isn’t a problem as long as it’s intact. You can hold it, play with it, lick it, eat it – no problem. But if it breaks and the fibers get in the air and you inhale it, well… then you’re in trouble. Just one fiber lodged in your lungs can mean a death sentence. Worse still, the time between exposure and the onset of disease can be a decade or more.

There are a couple of ways of dealing with asbestos: encapsulation or removal. Because it’s perfectly safe when it’s intact, you can often encapsulate it and forget it, that is as long as you never disturb it afterwards. If our tiles were all in good shape, then that might be an option (In fact sometimes that’s the safer option). But they’re going on 60 years old, a bunch of them are coming up, and the ones in the bathroom that have been exposed to water are in seriously bad shape. And the pipes, well, as you can see from the picture, they’re already being held together by duck tape. So, removal it is.

We’ve contacted a bunch of removal companies for estimates and man, it’s a process… Have you ever seen the movie Outbreak? You know the containment procedures they use to avoid the spread of the virus? Well, yeah, that’s what asbestos removal is like. They tent the house in plastic, create a negative pressure environment, don space suits, and follow a shower decontamination procedure.

source wikipedia

But before any of that can happen, a full inventory of the house must be done to rule out any other source of asbestos, an environmental permit must obtained, and oh yeah – the space where asbestos is to be removed must be emptied. Because we have asbestos most everywhere and don’t want to move out during the work, we’re planning on doing it in 2 stages. We’ll empty half the house, do the outbreak containment thing, remove the asbestos and camp in the other half of the house. Then we’ll switch sides and do it all again.

This wasn’t really my plan for the next stage in our house renovations, but I’m really glad we found it now when most of it is still intact. Worried you might have asbestos too? Here’s the EPA’s information sheet. It’s often found in insulation, roofing materials, old ironing boards, floor tiles, and textured paints. If you do find asbestos or think you might have some in your house, don’t disturb it. Call an expert, have it tested, and then you can decide what to do.

Here’s hoping this is the last big surprise for a while =)


11 comments on “Asbestos – Is the deadly fiber hiding in your home?

  1. myhealthyohana
    October 19, 2012

    Whoa, what a project. I’m really glad you found it though, better to be safe!

    • Jessi
      October 19, 2012

      Yeah, that’s our thought too. Not fun, but better safe than sorry!

  2. imarunner2012
    October 26, 2012

    I know you have to go through all of this to keep your renovation legal. I really think the EPA has gone way over board on this. If you worked in a ship yard for 40 years, then yes, asbestos will probably kill you. If you pull up a dozen floor tiles with asbestos nothing is going to happen to you.
    I believe in the EPA but I think this asbestos removal regulation costs too much and doesn’t do much.

    • Jessi
      October 26, 2012

      I appreciate your sympathy! It sounds like you’ve been involved in an asbestos related renovation? Actually though, I’m in Belgium, so it’s not the EPA, but the local equivalent. Deaths from asbestos here are rising every year, which kinda freaks me out. And unfortunately we don’t just have a dozen floor tiles, we have hundreds (every floor in the house). Plus they’re glued down with asbestos glue and a good number of them are already broken. Some of the permitting is definitely overboard (an excuse to make money for sure), but honestly I’d rather not take the risk.

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This entry was posted on October 18, 2012 by in Renovations and tagged , , , , .

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